The Case For Flight Helmets


A few years ago, I had a friend stay overnight and when I showed him the guest bedroom, his immediate reaction: “Wow, you do a lot of sports that require helmets.” And there they were lined up on the shelf, helmets for motorcycling, bicycling and skydiving. My welding helmet was in the garage. I do not, however, have a helmet for flying. And I don’t have a particularly cogent explanation for that. I just never got around to it. Maxime Compagnon’s YouTube crash video, which we’re featuring this week, has caused me to rethink this. He crashed at high elevation in the Austrian Alps after maneuvering to avoid striking a wire.

People who wear helmets of any kind, I have observed, do so for varying reasons and safety doesn’t necessarily bubble to the top. There’s no way, for example, that I’ll get on a motorcycle without a full-face helmet. Except … I did once, and fairly recently. I was shooting some technical video for Harley Davidson that required me to ride a Heritage Classic model. I was at a dealer in another part of Florida and they had no full-face helmets, just the open face that cruiser riders all but universally favor because it looks right. It’s a cultural thing. Never mind that an open face helmet provides none of the face protection you may desperately need if fate dictates that jaw and pavement become as one.

The skydiving version of this is the so-called Frap hat, a useless confection of leather or fabric with inconsequential padding that was once considered an essential fashion statement. You rarely see them anymore and when one appears, it merits comment and usually not admiration. The aviation version of this is the tight-fitting fabric helmet aerobatic and open cockpit pilots often wear as an update to the legacy leather helmet. They offer little impact protection but serve to keep a headset secure during high-G maneuvers. I’ve worn them from time to time but don’t like them much because they don’t help with noise in the noisy airplanes they’re likely to be worn in, like an Extra.

But there are flight helmet choices out there that are worthy of consideration. Aircraft Spruce has quite a selection of these and since I’ve worn only one, my intent here isn’t a market survey of these products but a consideration of this question: Why? It relates a bit the Harley cultural thing of what looks right. A helmet might fit right into a Super Cub, a Husky or even an X-Cub. But wouldn’t it look a little ridiculous in a Cirrus or a TBM? Depends on whether the engine is still running at 2000 feet perhaps. If you had one in such a circumstance, you probably wouldn’t stand on ceremony and you’d put it on.

To me, the measure is crashworthiness. Old traildraggers aren’t, new-age Cirri, Diamonds and Pipers are. So in not considering a helmet, you’re putting your faith in a low likelihood of needing it—and that’s not misplaced confidence—or of the aircraft protecting you if you do. Again, on a probability basis, that’s not misplaced. I’ve never been able to develop data on head injury incidence because the NTSB doesn’t include detailed autopsy reports in accident data. It could be a low or high incidence. I can’t make an argument with data, pro or con.

Perhaps a better metric is the kind of operation you’re doing. If you’re flying IFR from A to B, you’re doing training or otherwise using the airplane in benign circumstances, that’s one thing. But if you’re flying a lot of STOL or outback operations, as Maxine Compagnon was, that’s something else entirely. In this case, there’s a high likelihood of upending the airplane or otherwise coming to a violent conclusion; a helmet would be a smart addition to the flight kit.

The helmet I’ve used is the David Clark K-10. It was in a biplane, either a Stearman or Waco, I think, and was comfortable and quiet. No face protection but some impact protection similar to the cranials Navy crews wear around flight operations. I remember thinking that for $400, it’s not particularly expensive and would look perfectly appropriate in a Cub. I made a note to myself to see if the K-10 would accommodate a Bose or Lightspeed headset, but I never got to it. Maybe that’s a 2022 project.

Compagnon makes another point worth considering for flight survival: A basic survival vest. These days, we all assume that a cellphone will be the magic ticket out of distress, but as he notes in the video, he lost his. What he didn’t lose was a 406 MHz PLB, which he had wisely stowed in his vest. He and his companion were badly injured and the PLB summoned help in about 20 minutes. That would make a $300 PLB a bargain at three times the price. Again, whether the vest is practical depends on the flying you’re doing. I always wore one when flying over water and occasionally over wilderness areas or at night. It may feel like overkill in an airplane with posh leather seats, AC and cupholders, but these airplane crash as easily in the boonies as old taildraggers hauling fishermen out of remote lakes.

The consideration might be less vest or no vest, but asking yourself if you carry anything anywhere in the airplane to enhance survival. Like basic signaling, first aid, water, PLB, portable radio, survival tools and so on. If the answer is no, you might, as a 2022 resolution, ask yourself why.  

Update: Thinking about this further, I was dismissive of what data exists on light aircraft injury mechanisms. There actually have been several studies. I thought this one was too shallow to draw useful conclusions, but I left it open on my desktop and a closer read suggests some informative data. It’s confounded somewhat by including commercial aircraft and skydiving, whose higher injury rate is biased toward lower extremity injuries.

Although the data is old, this one focussed narrowly on GA crashes alone. Its summary says, “The most commonly occurring bony injuries were fracture of the ribs (72.3%), skull (55.1%), facial bones (49.4%).” The data was drawn from autopsy reports and suggests that head injuries, if not always the fatal mechanism, are nonetheless common. 

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  1. Great piece worth consideration Paul. Its timely for me as I just watched Dan Gryder’s video on the ArkanStol crash in which a very graphic picture of the pilots avulsed scalp is shown following his slow, low altitude turn stall/crash. I’ll bet THAT guy wishes he had worn a helmet!

  2. I hate to admit but I also thought of the helmet argument for cars. Of course in a new car with airbags everywhere, it may not make sense and you will be targeted for ridicule as you drive around. But for vintage cars, convertibles or others maybe not so silly? I’m sure there is data on the types of crashes etc so you could tell what would make sense. The video from the NHTSA that caught my attention was the old Nissan Pathfinder head-ons wherein the driver’s head would careen into the pillar etc- but the curtain airbags now take care of that –

  3. I have a HGU 55 helmet I wear when flying a T 28. I would like to wear it when flying my Nanchang but I have to have the seat so low to keep the helmet clear of the canopy it just doesn’t work. I am seriously thinking about upgrading to a Malcom hood to get more clearance.

    In any case if you are wearing a parachute then a helmet is highly desirable to help avoid getting knocked out when you abandon the airplane if you hit anything on the way out.

    I would suggest that for the average GA pilot the number one way to avoid a head injury is to properly use the shoulder seat belts. I still find a significant number of pilots who don’t put on the shoulder harnesses. This guarantees that you will jackknife over the lap belt and do a face plant right into the instrument panel.

  4. For years I had an old open face motorcycle helmet in the back seat of my airplane. My theory was that if I was going to crash, hopefully I’d have time to put it on. I’ll have to revisit this idea.

    There was a NASA Langley video of crash dummies in a Cessna being run into the ground. A single cross chest shoulder belt was better than nothing but not by far. THAT is probably a better idea … as David opines.

    • I think it makes a lot more sense to upgrade to 4/5 point harnesses.
      A helmet protects only its owner. Is every potential passenger going to have their own helmet? No. Will everyone’s head fit a loaner helmet? No.
      A harness will protect anyone who sits in the airplane.

      • Also there is slightly more headroom in an open cockpit airplane. I think my neck would get sore if I tried to wear a helmet in most of the planes I fly…

      • Yes… a loaner helmet might not fit every passenger… but, you as the pilot, I hope are still flying the plane or helicopter in and can’t brace for impact. Thus, you need far more protection than your passenger.
        I do wear full protection in the helicopter. I know I’m going to get a beating if I go in. So, pads all around in the underarmor under a flame proof flight suit with head fire protection under my helmet designed for helicopters… because yes, they are different than an airplane helmet. Airplane helmet is to prevent a bump on the head… helicopter is for a serious crash where your head is going to likely hit something hard.

  5. Why stop with helmets. How about knee pads, elbow pads, hip pads and shoulder pads too? Bubble wrap works really good in cardboard boxes. I’ll bet it would work pretty good in the entire cabin of an airplane. A lot lighter than a parachute and cheaper. The flying public would love it.

    • You are right – an airbag is a very sophisticated extension of the bubble wrap principle, so is now included in many modern aircraft.

      It comes down to a cost/benefit assessment. That could be based on the balance of how you value your body parts or life vs the financial and other costs and restrictions of each measure, and the relative risk of an accident in the first place. The comparison is difficult for various reasons, but given fatality rates in GA are roughly twice those of motorcycling, a rough and ready estimate of risk would point towards a helmet in (especially older) GA aircraft.

  6. I was going to mention the knee, elbow, hip, etc… pads…
    Yes, I do wear them inside special underwear when flying with my fire resistant flight suit and my fire resistant head cover under my helmet. Along with all this, I also keep a very special self igniting fire extinguisher in my vest that goes off on its own when exposed to fire. ( I’ve watched to many plane / helicopter crashes where it looked like it was survivable… but we will never know because of the post crash fire that likely burned them alive…) I found a fire extinguisher that is not only lighter and non corrosive, than others used, but goes off when exposed to fire on its own ( it would suck to be trapped and burned alive ) and it lasts longer than the current CO2 ones now used. ( the ‘Element’ fire extinguishers are used in race cars and already very expensive, so they should fit right into the aviation market 😜 )
    The funny thing about all my under cover protection is you can’t really tell from the outside, that I have all this padded heat / fire proof protection on, other than the helmet and flight suit. I usually am wearing it under my clothes when riding my motor cycle too. I guess for airplanes a helmet is best for when it is time to bail out… hope you did some tunnel work and skydive training. Stabilized flying bodies tend to get a better parachute opening.
    If I’m going remote, I do have a survival vest for that too. Life vests are not an option but required when I fly beyond gliding range of land, and it is on. A life vest is something I don’t want to be grabbing for as I attempt not hit the water or ground real hard. 😉

  7. Thought provoking piece Paul. I don’t consider myself short at 6’1” but always crave better visibility when taking off or landing my Husky. It has an excellent 5 point harness but a fixed position seat. As a result, I’ve taken to using cushions to improve visual awareness. The downside is my forehead and the overhead bubble compass have assumed an unhealthily close relationship on a few occasions during entry and exit. More than once I’ve thought about the damage I’d sustain in the event of a nose over or other impact. Perhaps the K-10 is the answer!

  8. Could happen — all legal motor car racing in the UK and Europe now requires not only a helmet, but a FIA approved full face, helmet, which is rather heavy.
    Caused a bit of grumbling when it was introduced but now everyone accepts it.
    Still, I remember the shear exhilaration of riding a motor bike without any helmet at all when I was young and dumb and the cops were miles away.
    And then the time I fell off while wearing a full-face and, after waking up a few seconds later, seeing the deep scratch which ran from the left chin to above the right eye of the helmet, as well as lots of other places where my skin had played cheese on the grater with the road surface. And a boot full of blood.
    Still do not wear a helmet on my bicycle — stupid I know, but then I have not been on a motorbike since…
    The big disadvantage, apart from the dork factor which will wear off if everyone does it, is the uncomfortable heat in a helmet in a aircraft cockpit. Tech is starting to include reliable cooling packs for military flyers — the sooner it trickles down the better.

  9. Sky Cowboy has adapted the rigorously tested EXFIL/SAR helmet used by special forces for use with all ANR aviation headsets and what we use them for seaplane, STOL and high altitude flights. It is mandatory equipment for seaplane operations along with an inflatable survival vest with its emergency accessories in pockets. Many seaplane accidents would have been survivable wearing a helmet as unconsciousness makes underwater egress impossible. The EXFIL chosen by the SEALS for its quick draining properties in Naval operations. Similarly STOL, bailout from aerobatic aircraft and use at high altitude with a mask all benefit from wear of a helmet. The EXFIL is lightweight, comfortable and enhances the noise reduction of a ANR headset. We’ve had ours for 4 years and wouldn’t leave home without them.

  10. Paul. I use a helmet when flying my open cockpit biplane. It is an inexpensive motorcycle item with built in headset. I modified the plugs to aviation type. The reason is I wear glasses, and goggles are not an option for me, hence the face shield. Also, the face shield keeps the wind noise down on the mic. Not really for safety, unless you include the helmet keeping my bald head from sunburn.

  11. I think you would have to redesign most of the cabins or canopies of the small GA fleet to accommodate any helmet that would offer meaningful protection. I know I tried one recently and couldn’t get the canopy closed……

    That said you posed the question of “what else?”. My own “What Else” – flying in remote parts of New England at times – is a grab bag of winter survival “stuff”. Extra gloves, scarf, fur hat, vest, fleece sleep sac, one of those mylar sleep sacs and enough “dry” first aid stuff to bind and splint. And an empty collapsible water bottle.

  12. “ an open face helmet provides none of the face protection you may desperately need” is true for big bugs too.

  13. “by wearing a good protective helmet, medical [helicopter] crewmembers can reduce their chances of sustaining severe head injuries in a serious but potentially survivable crash by a factor of five” Crowley JS. Should Helicopter Frequent Flyers Wear Head Protection? A Study of Helmet Effectiveness. J Occup Med. 1991 Jul;33(7):766–9. doi:10.1097/00043764-199107000-00007

  14. Many glider pilots carry survival & med supplies due to the very real possibility of landing out, far from easy access. You can find many recommendations based on real-world experiences on soaring blogs etc.

  15. When I took a week long training course in mountain/canyon and back country airstrip flying in 2012 from Lori MacNichols school in McCall Idaho, they emphasized the need to wear a vest with survival items while flying in the back country. At a minimum the vest should contain a PLB, signaling device, water filtration, protein bars, knife, flashlight with spare batteries, space blanket, fire starters and first aid kit. They said that you might not be able to get to a survival pack in the airplane after a crash. When I flew my Maule to Idaho in 2016 for more back country flying, most of my cargo was survival items. A helmet would be a good idea, although bulky. Our helicopter and air tanker pilots and crew are required to wear them at work since they fly at low altitudes in dangerous conditions. I checked Aircraft Spruce and the only full-face one I found is Comtronics Ultra-Pro Full Face. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have ANR capability. The Comtronics Pro-COM helmet would work with my Lightspeed Zulu 3 ANR headset so that would probably be my choice, although it doesn’t have full face protection.

  16. A broken jaw is no trivial fracture. By itself, it is an ordeal one gets through. Combined with other serious injuries, it can be part of the end of the show.

  17. I have the David Clark helmet and have been trying to find the snap-on face mask that was once available. Know where I can get one?

  18. After viewing Dale Earnhardt hit the retaining wall in the 2001 Daytona 500, everyone is amazed that he was killed instantly, as it wasn’t a fender crumpling hard impact. The reason he died was that the weight of his helmet was sufficient to provide the momentum necessary to spring his head off his restrained shoulders (like a Jack-in-the-Box) and sever his spinal cord. For this reason, all helmets are now tethered to the car frame, so as to allow rotary motion, but minimal forward motion.

    The factors to be considered, when choosing to wear a helmet when flying include:

    How likely is my head to strike a hard object for which padding is needed;
    How fast will I be going, when collision occurs;
    How much cockpit headroom is available

    Fighter pilots wear hard helmets to protect against maneuvering g-forces and ejection blast.

    No helmet will protect against CFIT

    So most survivable GA collisions occur during landing, when the speeds are in the 50 – 70 mph range – survivable automobile crashes if energy can be dissipated over a distance. In such situations, a lightweight backless (to accommodate seatbacks) bicycle type construction (thin flexible shell with crush foam), shaped like a boxers helmet, would offer ideal protection. Of course no such helmet exists and I doubt many would wear one during routine flight, unless it would eliminate headset clamping pressure.

    Maybe that’s the way to get pilots to wear one; every headset should be sold/worn with a form fitting safety helmet.

    • FYI, race car helmets are not directly tethered to the car. Most drivers were the HANS device, which tethers the helmet to the yoke on the drivers shoulders. The shoulder harness straps go over the yoke to hold it in place. I drive race cars in SCCA and wear a HANS device.

  19. The F-111 was initially advertised as a shirtsleeves and headsets flight deck since you ejected in a floating capsule. By the time it became operational crews wore Nomex and helmets and when a large bird shattered the windscreen they were glad they had their visor down. When the new bird proof flexible canopy( which had become brittle in the South West sun) shattered at Mach 2, the guys were glad they had their helmets on.

  20. The case for pilot flight helmets was made already in the 1970s for a worldwide non-profit flight organization primarily operating Cessna 185s out of short unimproved airstrips. The new rule went into effect after one of our pilots survived what would have been a fatal engine failure on takeoff accident but wasn’t fatal solely because he was wearing a helmet. On his way out of the house that morning, as an afterthought he had grabbed his son’s motorcycle helmet for a flight to break in a freshly overhauled engine on a Cessna 185. The helmet saved his day. All our planes were equipped with 5 point military style harnesses, but in the 185 we kept the right hand shoulder harness less tight than the left in order to better reach the flap handle and tailwheel lock. Our rationale for not issuing helmets to passengers was because passengers wore all five straps well tightened and were therefore better protected. Policy decisions in the 1970s were not as data driven as they are today, so no we did not have much data to support the helmet policy. The fact that both the helmet and loose shoulder harness played a role in that one accident were all the data we needed. The pilot helmet rule went on to be adopted in other type aircraft as well.

  21. Full Face motorcycle helmet yes, ten dollar brain ten dollar helmet.
    Cloth helmets in an open cockpit yes, wind and sun protection. All four of my cloth helmets have ear cutouts for your choice of hearing protection. Hard helmet, of course better crash protection. I don’t know about the wind?
    Cloth helmet in an Extra? Look at me, am I cool or what? Get a real helmet.
    Sky Diving, the last time I made a FF jump from 13,500′ I was the only jumper of 25 who had a helmet. The other 24 were barefoot and high on pot. I enjoy a good time, but not flying or jumping out of an airplane stoned.

  22. …the logical next step from helmet is a HANS device, unfortunately even more constraining in the cockpit. While I still wear Uncle Sam’s single layer nomex mostly for accessible pockets under a parachute, the reality is that even a 3 layer racing suit gives flame protection measured in seconds, and a few breaths in that environment will do even more damage.

    The cure doesn’t help if it puts you more at risk of a mishap in a non-cooled cockpit from heat exhaustion influenced poor decisions or inability to see/avoid with too much “stuff” in the way. Bottom line, never hurts to reexamine your flying vs equipment and do what is practical…and you can also choose to reduce the risk exposure…much like picking when you take the bike out for a ride.

    • The main purpose of the flight suit is to prevent you from wearing clothing that will melt and/or catch fire. Either of which make things worse.

      • Yup, makes me cringe when I see people hopping into an airplane wearing nylon or a bunch of polyester fleece. Wish our aviation orgs didn’t sell promotional stuff that melted so well.

  23. “Old traildraggers aren’t, new-age Cirri, Diamonds and Pipers are.”

    What Pipers are we calling “New-age”? Did this new age start in 1950 or did Piper genuinely put in some new safety in later models.

    We all become a bit weird when we endeavor to buy a plane. I’m sure there have been multiple stories here on the general ignorance about “known damage” log book entries. The short version is that a large portion of “clean” aircraft are seriously bent and ready to fold completely in a low impact incident while there are “known damage” planes with what amounts to cosmetic repairs.

    There’s likely some logic to helmets in some planes, and harnesses in most planes, but if we are going to be serious we might look at the planes we choose. There was a time when Volvo and maybe a few other cars offered a serious safety increase over others, but the market didn’t readily reward that. Instead, the market just punishes the worst offenders. Are our preferences (as displayed by the market) oddly rational, or should we really be more conscious of it when buying the plane itself?

  24. A 2009 NTSB safety alert reported that with motorcycles persons who did not wear helmets were 300% more likely to suffer serious injuries to the brain.

    In 2014 or so the FAA Alaska Region released the results of a five year retrospective study of Fatal/Serious Injury GA accidents for the years 2004 to 2009. During that time period Alaska recorded 649 total accidents, and 97 fatal and serious accidents which resulted in 113 fatalities. The Alaska Region assembled a team of very experienced flight surgeons who reviewed each medical report. Only 5 percent of all accidents (33 accidents) were “not survivable”. They found that helmets alone would have reduced fatalities and serious injuries by 33%. Airbags and 4 or 5 point harnesses would have reduced fatalities by about the same amount. In one accident the pilot of a float equipped supercub wore a helmet, his passenger did not. The pilot survived a stall/spin accident, the passenger died. It’s standard practice in the military to wear helmets. That is also true of many Federal Agencies that have fixed wing aircraft performing low level missions over inhospitable terrain. The team found that a key factor in whether a helmet would be worn or not was fit and comfort. As a minimum, they recommended that pilots wear a helmet during takeoff or landing in the back country or on unimproved strips. I’d take that further and suggest wearing a helmet is a very good idea when overflying rugged terrain OR large cities where there are no good options for a safe landing if the engine fails.

    I’ve experienced several partial power loss events while flying SE aircraft, and one complete loss of power. Power plant malfunctions have ranged from serious carb ice in an Archer (in day IMC … and luckily at 5000′ AGL) that cleared at 1500′ AGL, to sparkplug disintegration in the number 3 cylinder of that same aircraft on a night VMC flight (landed at an nearby airport along my route), to mag failures in a C172 in day VMC (landed at an alternate airport near my flight path), and catastrophic loss of all oil and seizure of the engine in a C182 on a VMC night flight (landed on a major highway between an SUV and a semi…). I’m a slow learner, so only began flying with a helmet eight years ago— after my first less in merging an airplane with highway traffic.

    The NTSB website (www d ntsb d com…) contains annual graphical analyses of “defining events” GA… i.e. the event that started a fatal or non fatal aviation accident sequence. They also publish graphics that show the phases of flight where accidents and fatalities occurred. Takeoffs (throttle forward to pattern altitude) don’t take long, but every year they have a disproportionately large number of accidents and deaths. Go figure! During takeoff we’re close to the ground, flying at a high angle of attack, full power, accelerating, have poor visibility over the nose… what could go wrong?

    The airports I fly out of are increasingly surrounded by tall buildings, tightly packed apartment buildings, small lot residential areas, tall trees, and lotsa power lines. Every direction I might climb out has hills, crowded streets, forests, and other obstacles. Yeah, I think helmets are a good idea. Just like my 4 point inertial reel harneses.

    • I remember that landing John. We both walked away, airplane was reusable. Thank you for not rear-ending the semi. Wife calls that part of 395 “your favorite road”

  25. Don’t forget to turn on your helmet mounted GoPro. I think some of the best Video Clickbait is taken from helmet mounted video cameras.

  26. I wear a helmet when flying my Quicksilver MX II Sprint. The Sprint is as open as it gets. Why do I wear a helmet? Protecting my noggin in an accident is one reason but the other reasons are for the face shield to protect my eyes and ability to keep my headset in place.

    The Sprint has a lap belt and no shoulder harness. I was considering adding a shoulder harness but an old ultralight pilot told me it was not a good idea. He said that in an accident, you want the body to bend at the waist to absorb the forward motion. In this way, the internals are not slamming against the rib cage if the body is restrained by a shoulder harness or 5 point harness. The trade-off is that the head can hit something as the body flops forward. This is the reason I wear a helmet when flying ultralights.

    • There’s plenty of stretch in the harness to absorb the forward motion. Question is, where is your head going as you bend at the waist? Unless your head has a clear swing all the way down into your lap, whatever it’s going to hit will hurt it a lot more than your torso from the harness.

  27. Does anyone have experience with the airbag equipped seat restraint systems now being offered for aftermarket installation? AmSafe offers both four-point and three-point models, which can be retrofit into almost all legacy closed-cabin GA craft. While obviously more expensive than a helmet, they are much more likely to be worn and are far more comfortable than a sweaty helmet in a hot cabin. I currently have a four-point inertia reel system in my plane, but am considering making the conversion to the air bag system. As Mr. Christian indicated, I don’t have enough headroom in my plane to accommodate a helmet on my 6’1″ frame without craining my neck sideways.

  28. Helmets are a great idea in almost every moving vehicle. A personal parachute will be even more useful in may cases. Do you wear a parachute when you fly your J-3? Very few people do.

    The “mente captus” (it is more polite in Latin) of the Youtube video who bailed out of a Taylorcraft demonstrated how easy is to get out of trouble with a parachute. I never wore a chute when flying airplanes but I learned how easy is to wear one in a small plane after getting my glider rating (I have skydived in the past).

  29. I recall my dad keeping an Air Force issued helmet that combined a GA style grey headset (with thinner ear protectors) and a construction style helmet. I never got around to asking him its application (maybe T-41’s?), but it offered lighter protection than the fully enclosed he used subsequently in his career.

  30. Paul, maybe you need to get one of those inflatable rubber “doughnuts” to cover your a** also. That way you’d be protected coming and going.

  31. I’m skeptical on some of the current helmets being offered for aviation. For Auto racing in the US most sanctions require a helmet with a rating of Snell SA, Special Applications. Those will have a Nomex lining and a light strong composite shell. But you wouldn’t want that rating for riding a motorcycle because helmets with a SA rating are designed lighter and for one hard single impact, helmets with Snell SM rating are designed for taking several impacts as your head skips across the pavement. Most of what I’m seeing for for aviation are not much more than bicycle helmets or search and recue helmets designed for falls or more like a hard hat.

    • Actually the two big differences between M and SA helmets are the Nomex lining in SA helmets. And SA helmets are tested again a cylindrical mandrel. Thing roll cage impact.

  32. I developed a very affordable solution to the aviation helmet situation. Pretty much all the flight helmets out there are not tested to any specific safety standards like street legal Motorcycle helmets are.

    Also, motorcycle helmets come in a much larger variety of sizes, styles and configurations, they also tend to be much cheaper. Why not use one of these as a flight helmet? Certainly they will provide much more protection.

    To solve this, I developed this kit.

  33. 20 years ago the estimate was that a slim, glorified headband would eliminate 80 percent of the head injuries in car crashes. When space permits I leave cycling helmets on board. Id be suggesting everyone don one prior to a forced landing. If i ever own something sporty I’m going to get helmets as standard kit.

  34. I flew for the U.S. Army for 25 years. I wore a helmet on every flight as passenger or pilot. I rode my motorcycle for many years, always wearing a helmet. If properly fitted, they are comfortable and unquestionably provide immense protection for the “brain bucket”. I’ve seen and experienced the helmet work, first hand. Never fly or ride without one. Regarding seatbelts, the “cross strap” is better than nothing, the NHTSA mandates them in cars and trucks for a reason. All of the military aircraft that I flew had two straps, for a reason…..they work better than a cross strap. Just another opinion.

    • During a low altitude low speed test of a B-1B control system aboard a test B-1A #2 at Edwards AFB in 1984, the aircraft stalled, went into a flat spin and augured in. The crew was forced to eject. The B-1A — like the F-111 — had an ejection capsule (vs. the B-1B ejection seats), When the chutes deployed, the third right front chute did not deploy properly causing the capsule to list seriously downward on the right front side. This caused the right front seat occupant — Doug Benefield — to lose his life when his un-helmeted head met the instrument panel. The pilot and WSO were seriously injured but survived. The capsule was brought to a hangar I worked in so I later had a look … not pretty.

      I often think about this crash when I fly with a friend who owns a ’67 PA28 with only seat belts. I forced him to buy some Hooker ‘poor mans’ shoulder harnesses which attach to the rear belts, but he doesn’t use them. It’s been said that these harnesses could cause spinal compression problems in a crash but I think I’d prefer that to a face full of instruments. Given THIS discussion, I think I’m going to insist that the right side harness be in and available to me when I fly with him from now on. I had them in my PA28 and liked them. Anyone flying a seat belt only PA28 ought to look into these things. Better’n nuthin’.

  35. I have a more personal opinion/experience. I have actually been in an airplane (T-34) that crashed, and believe I am alive today due to wearing a properly fitted (Flight Suits Ltd custom fit) helmet. Even with the helmet I fractured the orbit of my left eye and broke my nose. But I believe (I have no recollection) that I remained conscious and was able to egress from the airplane (all the USAF ground egress training did not hurt). My friend, who owned the plane and was flying at the time, did not survive. The autopsy results showed smoke in his lungs, so he survived the crash, but was not able to get out. He was wearing a helmet, but a loose fitting, surplus special he picked up somewhere. That sorry thing was, his Flight Suits Ltd helmet was delivered to his house the day AFTER he left on the trip to Sun n’ Fun.

    On the fire side, my pure cotton polo shirt and khakis did more to protect me against burns than the military flight gloves. But I do wish I had been wearing my flight suit. It may have meant less time in the burn center. The military flight suit supplies no insulation. My road racing fire suit is multi layers for thermal insulation. Still not good for extended time in fire, but to see how well they work, look up the 2020 Bahrain Roman Grosjean crash on YouTube.

    I am starting to fly with CAP, and I will replace my helmet for flying during search missions. There is extended time at 1000 AGL, with maneuvering. I think my life it worth it.

  36. One interesting data point about certification of helmets. Vietnam has a LOT of moto scooters. They had a very high fatal accident rate so they enacted a helmet law. But it seems they did not set any real standards. So most people wear a helmet that is not a safe as a common construction hard hat with the chin strap. But the country saw a very significant reduction in fatalities. It seems that any helmet is A LOT BETTER than no helmet.

  37. I know a doctor who did a stint for one of the foreign aid charities (amazing number of them in nice tourist areas) in Thailand who swears he treated a motorbike crash survivor who was wearing a melon shell on his head. The melon shell was smashed, the skull was cracked, but it could have been smashed without the melon…